As an outgrowth of Parkville High School child development teacher Nadine Smith’s graduate studies, she began an initiative to see the impact of peer mentoring on easing students’ transition to high school. Smith recruited approximately 20 students, mostly from her classes, to serve as mentors to a group of 15 Grade 8 students at Loch Raven Technical Academy. Smith challenged the students to come up with themes, activities, and potential guest speakers to address what an incoming Grade 9 student needs to know at Parkville High. The students suggested topics such as how to handle the lunchroom; the swipe card; career completers; and getting to know the high school administrators. With transportation from Parkville High to Loch Raven, generously provided by Sergeant Neil Weathers and the Towson precinct of the U.S. Army Reserves, the students began hosting the sessions after school every Tuesday at Loch Raven.
“One great change we have seen already,” Smith says, “is that the participating students – both at the middle and high school level have gained confidence. I have also seen my high school students being more reflective about their high school experiences and take ownership of their leadership roles.” One of Smith’s students, Briana, says that she participates because she didn’t have a mentor as she was entering high school and she recognizes that it would have been helpful. Two of the Loch Raven students – Christian and Tabi – report that the program has helped them by introducing them to information about high school and making it less scary and by enabling them to make friends with some of high school students.
And testing the waters of possible education careers
On Thursday afternoons, many of the same Parkville High students who participate in the program at Loch Raven Technical switch their attention to Oakleigh Elementary School. These students, many of them members of the Future Educators Association, coordinated at Parkville High by Smith, spend about an hour assisting kindergarten and Grade 1 teachers and students. Parent-coordinated carpools transport them to Oakleigh.
Peeking in room after room, the students can be found preparing materials, filing, copying, working one-on-one with students, reading to students, and more. Oakleigh Principal Sylvia Lemons says that the students are a welcome addition at the school and that the students and teachers look forward to seeing them each week. Smith says that while many of these students are potentially future educators, the experience provides them with experiences and knowledge that will be useful in whichever fields they decide to pursue.
Story and photos submitted by Diana Spencer, curriculum communications specialist